Banta wasn't in his office.
"What do you need?" Stahl said as we passed her open doorway.
"We were looking for Banta," Alex told her.
"Yeah, I figured that," Stahl replied smartly. "I'm asking what you need."
I glanced at Alex. We were both surprised by Stahl's open hostility.
"Um…we were under the impression that we'd be working with him," Alex lied smoothly.
"You just got back," she stated firmly. "With Lacey and McHale, right?"
She knew we'd been with them. She was the one who had assigned us to them.
"Then why…no," she said with a shake of her head. "It doesn't matter. But no, you're not working with Banta. In fact, Banta put in a request for some vacation time."
"He's not here?"
"No. He had days that he had to burn up before the end of the year. You know, use it or lose it. He decided to use it."
"Oh. Okay," I said with a shrug, hiding my disappointment.
Going casually to his office to have a chat with him was entirely different from actively seeking him out at his home.
I wasn't sure that we had enough ammunition to do that just yet.
I didn't want to scare him off.
"Take the rest of the day," Stahl said. "You worked your asses off in White Plains. In fact, take tomorrow, too. Just report back on Monday."
"Are you sure? I mean, we don't mind…"
"I know you don't mind. And you're going to make us all look bad with the amount of time that you so cheerfully put in, okay? So just take a damn break!"
We both stood frozen in her doorway as she glared at us for a long minute and then she sighed heavily and sat back in her chair.
"I'm sorry. You two caught me at a bad moment. I didn't…just…I'll see you back here on Monday, okay?"
"Is everything okay?" Alex asked her.
Over the course of the past six months, we'd rarely seen Stahl frazzled, but we were certainly seeing it now.
"I'm fine. I'm…come in and close the door."
We entered her office and closed the door behind us.
"This thing with Beemer is really bothering me," she said. "It wasn't an informant. He didn't have any informant. I would've known about it. Wouldn't I? I mean, I was his partner. I should've known about something like that."
"You weren't with him twenty-four seven," I said gently. "It's hard to say what he might have been up to."
"So you believe it? Just because of the harassment, right?"
"You need to take a break," Alex told her. "Follow your own advice, and take the weekend. You barely took a moment after losing your partner. That has to be tough."
"I guess I'm just feeling a little guilty," she admitted.
"Beemer wanted me to meet him that night. But I was…having personal issues and I told him no."
"He asked you to meet him?" I repeated, careful not to reveal my bewilderment about that.
Why would he have asked Stahl to come?
Was he going to bring her in on it, too?
I guess it stood to reason.
They were partners.
And if he had some kind of evidence against Banta, then she would need to know about it.
"It probably wouldn't have changed anything," Alex said. "If someone wanted him dead and you were with him, then they would've just killed you, too."
"Maybe," she replied thoughtfully. "But you know, Ross was killed on my watch. And now Beemer. How can I not take it personally?"
"You think someone targeted them because of you?"
"I don't know. What do you think?"
"I think that…" Alex began slowly. "You can't shoulder the blame for this. Ross was trying to pull one over on a terrorist group. And Beemer…well, we don't know yet exactly what he was into, do we?"
She's good, my Alex.
If I didn't know her better, I would've believed that she didn't care much about solving either murder.
But I did know her better.
And I was well aware that she was keeping her mask securely in place for Stahl.
"I know. Okay, well, again I'm sorry about this. I never should've snapped at you. Um…yeah. I'll see you on Monday, okay?"
"Okay," I said as I reached for the door.
"So your personal issues," Alex said. "Are you okay?"
"Yeah. It was…relationship trouble. I'm sure you can understand that," she said as she got up from her desk. Then she looked back and forth between the two of us and added, "Or maybe you can't."
"I didn't realize you were seeing someone," Alex stated.
And for some reason, I felt like I was missing something, but I had no idea what it was.
"I was," she clarified. "But not anymore. It's over."
"I'm sorry," I said.
"No need," she replied dismissively.
We said our goodbyes and left her office. Once we were out in the hall with the door closed, I glanced at Alex.
"What was that all about?"
"Well, for starters, she's lying. Beemer didn't ask her to meet with him."
"Can you be sure about that?"
"No," she admitted. "But if she is, I'd really like to know why. And something today has her on edge. It's more than Beemer getting a bad rep. She's worried about something."
"I definitely haven't ever seen her so cranky," I remarked.
"Oh, hey, did you call Jimmy?" she asked me suddenly as we got to the elevator.
"Yeah," I told her. "The video cameras are there, but not active."
"Which means they can be turned back on at any time."
"Right. And the audio is still fully functional."
"Son of a bitch," she muttered. "They just can't quit lying to us, can they? So who's listening now?"
"My guess would be Banta," I replied. "It's probably been him all along, and he just stashed the old tapes at Beemer's place."
"That's true," she agreed thoughtfully.
"So what do you want to do?" I asked her.
"You mean besides going to Banta's place and beating a confession out of him?"
"Yeah, besides that," I said with a smile.
"I don't know. I don't want to go home yet."
It was always tough to go back to the bugs. We'd just spent two weeks in a hotel in White Plains, and even though we'd spent the large majority of that time working, at least when we weren't working, we had privacy.
"Let's get a hotel. Now that we officially know we were being videotaped, it would stand to reason that we'd be a little spooked about going back."
So we checked into a hotel.
We were only a month or so away from Thanksgiving and I really wanted to have this thing put to rest by then.
I wanted Alex to be able to have dinner with her family and not have to worry about obfuscation and subterfuge.
But with Banta gone from work, it might take a little while. We needed to be able to talk with him, but like I said, I was afraid that if we went to see him at home, it would spook him.
We couldn't risk having him run.
So for now, it seemed like we were going to have to stick with the status quo.
Except that we had a three-day weekend ahead of us with no work, no secret meetings, and no cover stories.
It was just the two of us, in a room paid for with cash.
I wasn't worried about the lack of activity that would be going on in our apartment.
They weren't supposed to be listening anyway.
And if they were, well…I had no problem telling anyone who asked that we'd spent our unexpected mini-vacation in a hotel.
But for now, no one knew where we were.
Although, we'd obviously have to come up with a different story for Maas.
Somehow I had a feeling that telling him that we barely got dressed or left the room for seventy-two hours would not be a good career move.
But it was the truth.
For three whole days, we ordered room service and stayed in.
Of course, we talked about case strategy.
But we also talked about our families and our childhoods and…just everything.
It was like being on one long stakeout, only this time we were naked and we weren't confined to a car.
"We should go somewhere," she said to me. "When this is over, I mean."
It was Sunday night, or maybe almost Monday morning because it was pretty late.
I was sitting in the chair and Alex was on my lap. We had the blanket from the bed covering us as we sat and watched the city through the fifth-story window.
"I can't think of anywhere I'd rather be," I replied as I moved my hand in a random pattern over her back. "I don't think that I've ever been this relaxed."
"That's true," she agreed. "Your leg hasn't bounced in two days."
"Are you making fun of my nervous habits?"
"I would never make fun of you," she said. "Well, not too much anyway."
"You're in an awfully precarious position to be casting aspersions," I told her as I moved my fingers so that they were lightly tickling her waist.
That was one of the many things that I'd learned about her since we'd started this job.
She is very ticklish.
She wiggled against me in an effort to move away from my attack, and if I hadn't already been aroused, that would've done the trick.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you," she warned.
She ran her hand down my chest and let it hover in the vicinity of my stomach.
Mere inches away from a much preferable location.
"Are you threatening to touch me? Because that's not really much of a deterrent."
"I'm saying that if you keep tickling then I won't touch you."
I quickly moved my hand up her back and she slid hers down the last few inches.
I let out a heavy sigh and leaned my head back against the chair.
"So where do you want to go?" I said softly as she slowly trailed her fingers along my length.
"You tell me."
"I'm good with right here."
"Me, too," she admitted. "I just…I want us to take some time before we go back."
"You're still worried that it's not going to work," I concluded.
And then because I could barely think straight while she was doing what she was doing, I put my hand over hers to stop the motion.
She looked up at me and without her saying a word, I could see that I was right.
And I could understand it.
The NYPD had been the focus of both of our lives for so long and yet we didn't become a couple until after we left which made it hard to assimilate the two.
"If it doesn't work, then we don't have to stay," I told her. "Because we're going work. So if the department makes it too difficult, or things change in a way that we don't like, then we'll leave. We'll go back to the Bureau."
"Just like that?"
"If it means the difference in our relationship? Absolutely. I'm in this, Alex. And you know me…I don't halfway do anything."
"I know," she said with a nod, and then she finally smiled. "I'm not sure why it makes me so nervous. I'm not normally so insecure."
"Trust me," I told her. "Even if you don't trust yourself. You and me…we're going to be just fine."
I let go of her hand and instead encouraged her to shift so that she was straddling me.
As much as I'd been enjoying what she was doing before, I needed to be inside of her.
I needed that connection and I knew that she did, too.
But she drew out the moment by kissing me first.
It began as a tender, gentle exploration but it turned into so much more.
She moved again, rubbing up against me in a way that had me clamping my hands down on her hips just to hold her still.
She was making me crazy with want for her, but she just kept kissing me and running her fingers through my hair and it all felt so good that I was nearly ready to explode despite the fact that we'd barely even started.
"Alex," I managed to say, although it came out as more like a groan.
I wasn't sure if I was capable of saying any more words, but in my head I could hear myself begging repeatedly.
Please, please, please…
And as though she could read my mind, she mercifully moved again, this time settling down on me until I was buried fully within.
She'd worked me into such a frenzy with the delicate touch of her hands and her lips that I had to set the pace.
I needed to set the pace.
I kept my hands on her thighs, urging her faster and faster as I pushed up into her over and over.
This definitely wasn't making love, but that was okay. We'd done that a few times over the weekend already.
This was making a statement.
I have no idea how I managed to hold off as long as I did, especially considering that I was ready to blow my top before we even started, but as it was, I followed her into oblivion the fourth time she screamed out my name.
And yeah, I'd brag about that one if I was the kind of guy who bragged.
But I'm not, so I'd just quietly gloat about the fact that I'd given her that kind of ecstasy.
My Alex. My Eames.
No way was I ever giving this up.
Giving her up.
If it didn't work at the NYPD, then we'd just go somewhere else.